Surface Temperature Workshop: Response to Paul M

PaulM left a comment on my Surface Temperature Workshop Blog, and my response was too long to fit in the small ‘reply’ box.

Your admiration and praise for the openness of this process is somewhat misplaced. See the comments by Roger Pielke at

http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/candid-admissions-on-shortcomings-in-the-land-surface-temperature-data-ghcn-and-ushcn-at-the-september-exeter-meeting/

Key people in the field were not invited, and no information has been provided on who was invited or even who attended the meeting.

On the workshop blog, links to posts “will be limited to views from workshop participants”.

Also your remark “the spectrum of adjustments is generally as much positive as it is negative” is misleading. The net effect of the adjustments in the US is to introduce a warming of about 0.5 F over the period 1950-2000, as shown at
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/ushcn/ushcn.html

PaulM

Thanks for that. I disagree and I think  Roger Pielke’s blog comments are unfair. He has disabled comments so I can’t leave comments there.

I am not at a technical expert in this field – I am  general physicist and specialist in temperature measurement, and my contributions to the workshop were generally along the line of insisting that uncertainty of measurement estimates be included in the data files from the outset. A pretty mundane input, but hopefully significant. I don’t know the details of the invitation process but the people involved did seem to me to feel slightly traumatised and so probably didn’t invite people they viewed as ‘hostile’. I think they wanted skeptics rather than cynics. What I didn’t (and still don’t) understand is why this community has  been the focus of so much negativity. I think the reason they are being so widely criticised is because the output of their work indicates that the Earth is warming, and this is a politically unwelcome result for some people. From my point of view, if their work is wrong then the errors will show up eventually, but actually the ‘signal’ they see appeared to me to be fairly robust. There are plenty of other reasons to be concerned that humans might be affecting the climate and this is just one more, and IMHO, one of the less significant pieces of evidence.

The individuals I spoke with were very open to answering my ‘dumb’ questions. As a group, they seemed to me to be very genuine people who were just trying to communicate clearly what their research revealed. They spoke of their errors – and how any admission of error caused them to be pilloried – and they spoke of the stress of trying to work in the face of that.

You raised the issue of adjustments to the data and I have been slowly working on a blog posting on that specifically – hopefully in the next day or two. The key thing I learned at the meeting concerned this adjustment – the homogenisation process. Historical and current meteorological data was and is compiled for reasons other than Climate Research, and so with the possible exception of the new US climate reference network pretty much all the data from around the globe has large measurement uncertainties, probably greater than 1 °C – but these are mainly Type B (systematic) uncertainties. However, the Type A uncertainty, the reproducibility of the monthly or yearly-averaged data is good, probably less than 0.1 °C. What this community has done is to ask the question ‘Can one do anything with this this data?’ and the answer they give is ‘Yes’, providing one can assess the effect of shifts in Type B terms.  I have been slowly reading through literature on this and their arguments seem sound. The key point is that it is essential to adjust the data to cope with shifts and drifts in the Type B terms. So the  adjustments they make to the data do not ‘introduce’ a warming trend, they ‘reveal’ it.

All the best

Michael

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4 Responses to “Surface Temperature Workshop: Response to Paul M”

  1. PaulM Says:

    Michael,
    Thank you for your detailed reply. There are many issues here, and there is little point in going over all the old arguments from scratch so I will bite my tongue on many of them, and just concentrate on the ‘openness’ issue since this seems to be a recurrent theme of your blog.
    The workshop aims spoke of ‘engender broad input into the process’ and ‘ensure openness transparency and outreach’, ‘must engage widely’ etc,
    while the Introductory Remarks talk said that ‘All voices and perspectives are important’.

    The Surface Temperatures projected has completely failed to live up to these ideals, as pointed out by Pielke. I am grateful to you for posting my comment. When I tried to post a brief comment on the surface temperatures blog, it was moderated away. The blog says views “will be limited to views from workshop participants” making a nonsense of the above claims about all voices being important.

    Roger Pielke (referred to as a ‘prat’ in the climategate emails) has a very long record of high quality papers in the field, and has many papers directly relevant to the topic of the workshop. He or one of his co-authors should have been invited or at least their input solicited. I am not sure what you mean by sayig he is unfair.

  2. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    First of all I think I should say that I think you do have a point. I think the organisers of the Surface Temperature Workshop made some attempt at openness, – there was a wide range of people represented. However, I suspect there was good deal of simple fear that if they invited certain people – and I genuinely don’t know who those people are – then the whole thing would just get bogged down in acrimony.

    I look respectable on a invitation list (NPL, MBE etc), but its hard to believe I was amongst the 80 people in the world who could contribute most on this topic. Julia Sligo in her welcoming remarks referred to ‘this community’ having been under attack – I can’t remember her exact words but that was the gist of it. I felt strongly enough even in this first session to state at the end of her talk that I wasn’t a member of ‘this community’ and that’s why I thought I had been invited.

    However I still think Dr. Pielke Snr. is unfair. In his blog he states:

    “There are very important admissions in these presentations. First, outside of the USA, there is inadequate (or no) publicly available information on station histories, yet these data are still used to create a “homogenized” global average surface temperature trend which reaches up to the “highest level of government”. Even in the USA, there are undocumented issues.”

    All these issues were all aired very openly at the meeting. Nobody was ‘in denial’ about these issues. The concept of creating benchmark data sets that could test the fairness of the homogenisation was discussed at length. The head of GCOS was very frank in acknowledging the varying quality of stations contributing to the GCOS network. But all these people were here trying to make things better, but doing the best they could with the data they had.

    “While the organizers of the Exeter meeting are seeking to retain its leadership role in national and international assessments of the observed magnitude of global warming, it is clear that serious problems exist in using this data for this purpose. We will post information on several new papers when ready to introduce readers of this weblog to quantification of additional systematic biases in the use of this data for long-term surface land temperature trend assessments.”

    As I mentioned previously, anyone who is looking to this data set to determine whether Climate Change is underway is fundamentally wrong-headed. There are lots of other reasons to be concerned about even the possibility of climate change. Everyone I spoke too was eager to discover any systematic biases in the trends and I recall discussing many of the minutiae with Matt Menne and Steve Worley.

    “There is a need, however, to accept that the primary metric for assessing global warming and cooling should be upper ocean heat content, since from 2004 onward the spatial coverage is clearly adequate for this purpose (e.g. see). While there, of course, is a need for regional land surface temperature measurements including anomalies and long-term trends, for obtaining a global average climate system heat content change the oceans are clearly the more appropriate source of this information.”

    I think most people at the meeting would have agreed with this, or at least accept it as a fair point of view. However, this was specifically a meeting about the LAND Surface Temperature Record. I don’t think its fair to criticise the meeting for not being about the SEA Surface Temperature Record! People generally think that ICOADS has done a great job and want to learn what they can for an equivalent facility if one can ever be created.

    All the best

    Michael

  3. PaulM Says:

    Thanks Michael, I will return the compliment and acknowledge that you have a point too, particularly about the land/ocean.

    The two sides are separated by a gulf of mistrust and misunderstanding. This won’t be resolved by the scientists refusing to talk to the sceptic bloggers or even (non-sceptic) scientists like Pielke, while claiming openness and inclusivity.

    The latest complaint is that Menne used a picture from Antony Watts surfacestations project as the front page off his talk, unattributed, see his blog.

  4. PaulM Says:

    It gets worse. Roger Pielke says that he was asked by Nature to write something about the Exeter meeting and issues arising. Having written it, the invitation has suddenly been withdrawn, thanks to “some information from attendees at the meeting in question.” I wonder which attendees objected. I’m sure it wasn’t you 🙂

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